While most volleyball coaches spent the preseason working hard to fill several positions vacated by graduated seniors, Independence’s Megan Osysko spent her time fine-tuning a squad that returned intact.
The Blue Devils, who finished 20-4 last season, enter the 2017 season with high hopes and the intent of extending their season into November.
“We’re dedicated to that process,” Osysko said. “It’s part of the constant conversation we have with them in drills, throughout practice during the week and when we’re going through scrimmages. Our sights are constantly set on playing in November.”
With so much experience and talent on the roster, Osysko has added intensity to each practice to better prepare her players for a return to the regional tournament for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2013 and 2014.
“So far the girls have been working very hard,” she said. “Obviously, our MO the last couple of years has been defense, defense, defense and that’s being stressed. We’re also speeding the ball up and trying to get ball control down to incorporate more plays and to speed it up and take our offense up a notch as well because we have the depth now. We have almost two or three hitters in each spot.”
Leading the way for the Blue Devils is first team All-Ohioan Maura Collins, a University of Dayton commitment.
Collins, the lone senior on the squad, led the Blue Devils with 293 kills, was second on the team with 169 service points and 308 digs and also recorded 11 blocks and 95 digs.
“She’s our fearless leader,” Osysko said. “Even throughout the preseason she has done an awesome job of bring the team together and giving the team her knowledge and experience of the game. Her goal is to take the team all the way and that’s our collective goal, to make it down to state. She’s going to do everything in her power to do that.”
In her previous three years on the varsity squad, Collins has recorded 808 kills, 561 service points, 31 blocks, 884 digs and 156 assists.
Sophomore outside hitter Kalli Screptock returns to the starting lineup after finishing second on the team with 165 kills last fall.
“We expect her to come back with that experience from last year and hold her head high and put some balls on the floor,” Osysko said.
Junior setter Katie May missed some time last year with an injury but she finished the year with 308 assists and 101 service points in just 42 sets.
“She’s running a 6-2 with Maura,” Osysko said. “We’re looking for her to lead us when she’s on the floor. We need her to be the quarterback out there.”
Sophomore libero Maddy Bilinovic also returns after a strong freshman year in which she led the team with 218 service points and 460 digs.
“She gained a lot of experience playing at a pretty high level this past club season,” Osysko said. “She’s ready to lead the defense and do anything it takes to keep the ball off the floor.”
Sophomore Katie Taliaferro will play either right side or middle blocker this season. She recorded 86 kills and 15 blocks as a freshman.
“She worked very hard in the preseason to get a lot of touches for our outside hitters and to put the ball down,” Osysko said. “She’s going to be a good offensive force for us.”
Juniors Lexi Prokopius and Kaitlin Richards will team up to patrol the middle.
Prokopius recorded 135 kills and 16 blocks last fall while Richards had 81 kills.
“We’re looking to them a lot this year,” Osysko said. “Our offense has been outletting to the outside trying to incorporate our middles more into our offensive threat. We’re looking to them to touch some balls at the net for us.”
Providing quality depth for the Blue Devils are freshman outside hitter Grace Smotek, junior defensive specialists Amy Ksiazka and Olivia Bilinovic, and right side hitters Maranda Sedlock and Sam Richardson, a pair of juniors.
“We’re looking at Olivia and Amy as defensive specialists to come in at times and help out our defense,” Osysko said. “We want Sam and Maranda to push our other hitters to make them better and when called upon to come in and put the ball on the floor. Freshman Grace Motek starting on the outside has been doing a really good job to go right at the block and get us some kills.”
Juniors Jenna Suhy and Sarah Piteo also will see time on the varsity squad.